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News 26 May 17

Sarajevo Premieres Play on Bosnia-Born Hemon's Life

The American-Bosnian writer Aleksandar Hemon will see his works, which tell the intimate story on his life, premiered in the form of a play in Sarajevo.

Valerie Hopkins

The play “Book of My Lives” that opens on Friday in Sarajevo’s intimate Kamerni Teatar tells the story of Sarajevo-born writer Aleksandar Hemon, from his first memories of trying to strangle his little sister to the death of his child in Chicago.

In between, it tells the story of the collapse of Yugoslavia, Hemon’s move to the US, and his life between two places.

The play is based on a collection of essays by Hemon of the same name. At a press conference on Friday, Hemon said that this was the first time his writings were being adapted for theatre, calling the play an opportunity for a dialogue between generations.

“Many people of my generation know all too well the things I wrote about. But the fact that people so much younger then me took to work on my text means that we opened a conversation that is important to me as Bosnian and American as well as an artist,” Hemon said.

Director Sabrina Begovic-Coric said she got the idea for the play having loved reading Hemon’s works.

“I grew up and matured with his writing,” she told Nezavisne Novine. “I think he in some ways helped me to see and understand our society. And then I decided that I wanted to use the medium through which I express myself to further share it with the public.”

The play, like the original essays, raises existential questions of identity, priorities, and what it means to belong, through a series of charged, intimate and often funny moments narrated by Boris Ler, who plays Hemon, and other members of the cast, which includes Maja Maja Izetbegovic, Amar Selimovic, Mirna Joguncic, Sabit Sejdinovic and Merima Ovcina.

In one poignant episode, Hemon recalls when first he started to think about identity after his friend was offended that he had called him a Turk.

Later, he and his friends try to ignore the coming war, which started in 1992. He goes to Chicago and tries to stay in contact with his family as they first seek refuge in their weekend house and later escape to Serbia with nothing except their beloved dog.

Begovic-Coric used archival audio and video material throughout the story, which deepens the audience’s personal connection to the shared experience of many Sarajevans.

Although the play is about Hemon’s life, it raises questions about current global crises: the rise of right-wing conservative politicians across Europe and the United States, the movement of people on a scale not seen since the Second World War, and expanding dissatisfaction with governments.

“Through the play we ask where private life stops and political life begins, and when politics stops giving us an identity and private life begins to define us,” Begovic-Coric wrote recently.

“In the present moment, with the world's turbulent political events, it is irresponsible to run away from questioning what binds us and what makes us similar and what makes us different, and how we connect and how our differences can connect us. It is important to remember the hope that history will stop repeating itself. The number of nationalists, neo-fascists and Nazis around the world is growing and it does not look good.”

The director emphasized that while she is concerned about global issues, the nationalism that tore apart Yugoslavia in the 1980s and 1990s still remains.

“Here I am in a position to think about war, because if, after two world wars, despite the many anti-fascists in the area that we now call 'Ex-Yu', there was still a war... what can we expect of a society where nationalism is the standard?”

The play will also be performed on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.


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